area 100 | changing cities

architect: Frank O. Gehry

location: Bilbao, Spain

year: 19911997

Bilbao can witness a strategic resort to certain prestigious names of international architecture: the city subway planned by Norman Foster, the airport by Santiago Calatrava presently under construction, the new general town plan entrusted to Cesar Pelli, even if everything is undoubtedly eclipsed, at least for the moment, by the Guggenheim, in a certain sense authentic Stadtkrone of the city, erected with the objective of introjecting the need for representation of the Basque citizens. And presently this intricate “steel octopus” (I. Fernandez Galiano) is certainly immediately associated with the name of Bilbao, thus rapidly becoming the emblem not only of this Northern Spanish capital but also of the career of its author, Frank Gehry. The Guggenheim in Bilbao represents a confirmation of this quotation, a great intertwining of volumes that projects from the banks of the Nervion river as an impressive sculpture, a show staged with great skill. One perceives the architect’s intention to involve the public in a context that is new to it, creating an artistic architecture that speaks directly to the sentiments and emotions of the spectator, thus inevitably turning the visitor into someone playing a role during his personal exploration of the building. The decomposition of the volumes enables the author to resort to an organization by independent pavilions – a habitual design practice of his – which in this case nevertheless escapes elementary formalizations through complex articulations created with the help of computers. In any case a compositive “heart” can be abstracted in this spatial continuum: the atrium with its tall columns containing the systems of vertical circulation. For that matter, Gehry has himself been explicit as to the absence of disciplinary frontiers between art and architecture. “Many architects see me as an artist; they do so to marginalize me. I have never understood how this line of separation can be drawn”. And in fact, the lasting qualities of his architecture seems guaranteed – as Rafael Moneo reminds – rather than the virtuality of the building, by the value which we can attribute it as a “total work of art”.

project: Frank Gehry
location: Bilbao, Spain
date: 1997
program: art museum
construction system: telaio di acciaio, lamiere di titanio
photos: Duccio Malagamba